US Navy resurrects EA-18G five years after mid-air collision

More than five years after a US Navy-operated Boeing EA-18G Growler was involved in a mid-air collision with another aircraft that deemed it to be damaged beyond repair, the electronic attack jet has been returned to flight operations after the service completed a complex refurbishment process.

The US Navy announced the completion of this resurrection effort on October 28, after the EA-18G (BuNo 157015 ‘NE-515’, c/n I-484) – now assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron 129 (VAQ-129) ‘Vikings’ – successfully completed a functional check flight at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island in Washington on October 17. This milestone flight marked the success of a five-year effort, which involved large-scale teamwork between multiple different organisations over an extended timeline.

Boeing EA-18G Growler (BuNo 157015 'NE-515') undergoes refurbishment at NAS Whidbey Island in Washington. This aircraft was involved in a mid-air collision in 2017 and will soon be returned to a forward-deployable squadron after it successfully completed its functional check flight on October 17, 2022.
Boeing EA-18G Growler (BuNo 157015 'NE-515') undergoes refurbishment at NAS Whidbey Island in Washington. This aircraft was involved in a mid-air collision in 2017 and will soon be returned to a forward-deployable squadron after it successfully completed its functional check flight on October 17, 2022. US Navy

While this Growler was previously assigned to VAQ-136 ‘Wizards’, it was involved in a mid-air collision with another aircraft that was attached to Carrier Air Wing 2 (CVW-2) during a training event at NAS Fallon in Nevada on September 14, 2017. While both aircraft landed safely and their respective aircrews were uninjured as a result of the incident, EA-18G (BuNo 157015) was deemed to be damaged beyond repair. The aircraft remained at NAS Fallon until it was transferred to VAQ-129 – the US Navy’s sole Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) for the Growler – at Whidbey Island in February 2021.

The US Navy states that initial inspections deemed that there was “little hope” the aircraft would be fit to fly again due to the complexity of the repairs that were required following the mid-air collision, along with addressing the additional weather damage that the aircraft sustained while it was sitting in a desert environment from 2017-2021. According to the service, the Growler remained at Fallon for as long as it did because a “refurbishment of this nature had never been done before and there were no processes or procedures on exactly how the repairs could be completed.”

Classified by the service as a ‘special rework’ project, funding and long-term hangar space for the resurrection of this Growler was secured by the US Navy. For more than a year, engineers, maintainers and artisans from a number of facilities across the continental US collaborated to develop new processes to complete the required repairs and thoroughly inspect the aircraft before it was deemed safe to grace the skies once more. As a whole, the effort took more than 2,000 man hours to complete.

Personnel involved in the refurbishment of EA-18G Growler (BuNo 157015 'NE-515') pose for a photo with the aircraft at NAS Whidbey Island on October 28, 2022. The Growler will be transferred to a frontline squadron in the near future.
Personnel involved in the refurbishment of EA-18G Growler (BuNo 157015 'NE-515') pose for a photo with the aircraft at NAS Whidbey Island on October 28, 2022. The Growler will be transferred to a frontline squadron in the near future. US Navy

Commenting on the effort, Tommy Moore – depot lead for the US Navy’s Fleet Readiness Center (FRC) Northwest – said: “This was a team effort by personnel from FRC Southeast, FRC Southwest Engineering and my team from FRC Northwest. We reassembled the aircraft by replacing all major components and turned the aircraft back over to VAQ-129 as a ‘special rework’ complete on April 24, 2022.”

Having been given a second lease-of-life, the newly resurrected Growler will soon be transferred from VAQ-129 to an operational frontline squadron, where it will once again be available for deployments and combat operations across the globe.